Saturday, October 20, 2007

Clay Aiken -- a Charity Activist for "All the Right Reasons"

ABC News has featured Clay Aiken in an interesting and thoughtful article about celebrity charity activists.

Appearing yesterday on the ABC News website, the article focuses on the motivations and efforts of celebrities who give their time to humanitarian organizations.

The title calls attention to one of the newest celebrities to jump on the humanitarian bandwagon: "Paris to Rwanda: Socialite Becomes Latest Star Hitched to Charity
How Involved Are Celebrity Charity Activists, and Do They Have Ulterior Motives?"

The writer of the article, Blair Soden, begins by questioning Paris Hilton's possible motives for entering the arena of third-world charity endeavors and then moves on into a brief history of celebrity involvement in humanitarian aid organizations -- from Danny Kaye and Audrey Hepburn to the more recent efforts of such people as Sarah Jessica Parker, David Beckham, Don Cheadle, and Clay Aiken.

The article quotes Lisa Szarkowski, who heads the ambassador program for Unicef, to cite why famous people can be helpful to charitable organizations.
"Celebrities have the ear and attention of the public," said Szarkowski. "They tend to command more attention than talking heads from our organization."

Attention that leads to big bucks. Aiken asked fans to donate money to Unicef to help the children in Lebanon and raised more than $75,000 in 24 hours.

Much of the rest of the article focuses on Clay Aiken's efforts and words to highlight the positive efforts of celebrities with intelligence and a sincere desire to help.
It's not easy to be selected as a Unicef ambassador. The group sets high standards for celebrities to live up to.

"In terms of becoming an ambassador, it's definitely a process," said Szarkowski. "We like to work with people who are committed to the cause and the mission and to align themselves with us for the long term."

Aiken made the cut when he was named a Unicef ambassador in 2004. The organization approached Aiken after hearing of his involvement with his own charity, the Bubel/Aiken foundation that helps young people with special needs.

Aiken said he felt obligated to help those in need.

"One of the most important responsibilities that you have if you're answering to the public is that you try to use that position in a way that serves the people you're trying to entertain," said Aiken. "I think you have a responsibility when you realize you have kids watching you. ... You can set an example to have kids doing drugs, or you can set an example to have kids helping their communities or their world."

There is further emphasis on the long preparation that goes into a trip to a foreign land in need of aid.
Despite some common misconceptions, celebrity representatives don't just jet set off for a photo-op; they prepare for months before taking a trip.

"We prepare them pretty well," said Szarkowski. "People don't become ambassadors or supporters of ours unless they go through a process of learning about us and engaging with us."

Celebrities sit through classes to learn about Unicef and all the various issues that threaten children's survival around the world.

In the article Clay Aiken adds much to this informaton with his own insight into the necessity of preparation and education.
Aiken said the preparation is necessary in order to meet with health ministers and other officials on these trips.

"It wouldn't behoove anyone if we just went in to take pictures and came back," said Aiken. "The goal of all these visits and the reason we sit through extremely long sessions sometimes is so when we come back we know what we're talking about."

Aiken said the preparation is necessary in order to meet with health ministers and other officials on these trips.

"It wouldn't behoove anyone if we just went in to take pictures and came back," said Aiken. "The goal of all these visits and the reason we sit through extremely long sessions sometimes is so when we come back we know what we're talking about."

His first-hand observations about such a journey bring to life some of the experience of being a UNICEF ambassador.
Aiken didn't know what to expect during his first visit to Uganda. He walked into the minimalist community center, where he expected nobody to know his name. Suddenly, he was greeted with bows from the crowd.

"When we walked in, they kept calling me your excellency," laughed Aiken. "I think both visits we've been on there have been misconceptions about how important I am."

All joking aside, no matter how famous -- or infamous -- a celebrity is, celebrity support is essential.

The article goes on to describe the bare bones accommodations and risks that exist in many of the humanitarian destinations.
"The celebrities we work with want to go where they can be most helpful," said Szarkowski. "We're fortunate to have that caliber of people who basically say to us, 'Tell me where you want me to go.'"

In her eight years at Unicef, she said she's never had a celebrity refuse to go where they were asked to go. And the places they're asked to go certainly don't come with luxe accommodations.

"It's usually a tent somewhere.That's our standard accommodation," said Szarkowski.

Aiken and others pay their own way when they travel on behalf of Unicef. However, once they reach their destination, they don't have the need for many expenses. Most nights they're sleeping in tents on the ground.

Human rights activist John Prendergast adds information about the risks involved.
In addition to the bare bones travel accommodations, celebrities must cope with extremely dangerous situations. In order to avoid conflict, human rights activist Prendergast said every minute detail of the trip must be mapped out.

"These trips have to be planned very well to ensure maximum impact and security," said Prendergast.

The final point of the article once again focuses on the incentives behind celebrity involvement, contrasting the yet untested motivations of Paris Hilton with those of Clay Aiken and Angelina Jolie, who have shown that they are in it for "all the right reasons."
Hilton will be filming scenes for her new reality TV show while she's in Rwanda, which has left some questioning the genuineness of her visit. But not everyone is upset about celebrities like Hilton lending their name to causes without much further involvement, if that is so in her case.

"I wouldn't judge people for what their motivations are," said Szarkowski. "We need everyone with a voice to help us get behind that and change that reality."

But, Aiken cautions, a focus on one organization or charity is important to the public.

"I get requests from every organization to come and do this or that," said Aiken. "It's not that I don't have a passion for kids with cancer, because I do. I feel like you can dilute your message if you talk about too many things."

While it remains to be seen how involved Hilton will be with her organization of choice, one celebrity who no doubt has stolen the humanitarian aid spotlight is in it for all the right reasons, according to Aiken.

"I look to Angelina Jolie as a prime example of someone who is doing an amazing job," said Aiken. "She really has a passion and she goes in and makes a point to educate herself about what's going on and that's the only way to do it."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Church Continues to Support Clay Aiken's Appearance

From Joe Rodriguez of The Wichita Eagle:

Church has no plans to cancel Clay Aiken concert

A concert by Clay Aiken at Wichita's Central Christian Church will go on as scheduled next month, a church leader said Wednesday as the leader dismissed a tabloid's article that the church was under attack for hosting the performance.

Aiken, who gained fame on the show "American Idol," is set to perform a Christmas concert at the church Nov. 26.

An article in the most recent issue of the National Enquirer cited a source who said "the church received a lot of attacks" when it announced earlier this year that Aiken would perform. The evangelical church has Wichita's largest Protestant congregation. The article claimed the outrage was centered on Aiken's sexual orientation.

One church leader characterized the article as "just absolutely false." Senior Pastor David Welsh was unavailable for comment.

In June or July, shortly after the church decided to hold the concert, church leaders crafted a memo that addressed, in part, questions that could arise about Aiken's sexual orientation.

A copy of the letter, circulated among church leaders, made many points, including:

• "Clay has always spoken openly about his Christian beliefs. He doesn't drink, smoke, swear or womanize. He won't sing about sex or even use lyrics with innuendo. During his Idol appearance in 2004, Aiken wore his WWJD bracelet each show."

• "His holiday CD includes several songs about Christ's birth. During a tour for Disney, he sang an explicitly Christian song ('You Were There') which references Abraham, David and Jesus."

• "In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in July 2003, Aiken... stated that he is not gay. This fact was again confirmed in an interview with 'Today's Christian,' an internet website and service of Christianity Today, International."

The letter went on: "Keep in mind, this is an 'outreach event.' Many of Clay's fans are Christians, however some may never darken the halls of a church, but for this one event."

The Central Christian Church leader said that the memo surfaced outside the church within the past few weeks, when someone claiming to be "a concerned citizen" e-mailed the church about Aiken's sexuality. A copy of the memo was sent to the person, the church leader said.

The church has not made any changes in its plans to hold the concert.

"Our official position is we are hosting a Christmas concert and have invited Clay Aiken to be our guest," said Gary Walker, chairman of the church's Board of Elders, its governing body.

"He will be singing songs from his 2004 Christmas album. The concert is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 26 and tickets are $30, $35 and $40."

Monday, October 8, 2007

Paulus admits it was all a hoax.

In a tabloid story circulating this week, it was reported that John Paulus has never recanted his claims about meeting Clay Aiken. True to form, the tabloids have not checked their facts, because Paulus made it clear last spring that his story about a hook-up was a lie, a fabrication encouraged by a group of people who wanted to discredit Clay Aiken's clean image.

Paulus claims they located him from the “Big Muscle” gay website:

“They saw me there and that I was muscular, attractive, and from NC and persuaded me to help them. So we worked out this scheme over 6 months and put it into place going over ever detail. I even took 3 prior lie detector test so that I could pass one by any media that gave me one.”

According to Paulus, “… it was nothing but a story concocted by another Idols fans and I was nothing but the front person in this scheme.”

What about the evidence previously offered up by Paulus? Said Paulus, “Oh what about the rag? Used a prop. And the cell phone calls? They were calls made by 'haters' to my phone. And the hotel room? There was really a room 207 and I really did check in and I did walk with someone into the room. Clay and I never met nor have we ever had sex.”

All of this begs the question, why would John Paulus participate in such a scheme and then cling to it so tenaciously for more than a year? Paulus explained, “My only compensation was that they would get me in touch with Lucas to do porno.” In his estimation, Paulus’ porn flick for Lucas Entertainment in New York City paid his bills for an entire year. After Paulus initially went public with his allegations last year, he claimed that some of Aiken's fans sent threatening emails and death threats, telephoned him at his job, and got him fired from his job, prompting him to contact the FBI for protection.

An added incentive for Paulus to stick with his story, after his Lucas Entertainment deal, was
“Because Claymates pissed me off and it was fun messing with them.” He got his porn deal. He messed with the Claymates. So what caused John Paulus to do this sudden about face and claim that his liaison with Aiken was all part of a grand scheme in which he played only a small role? When asked, Paulus explained that his co-conspirators were offended by his apparently softening stance on Aiken, and he felt they were attempting to discredit him:

“Because when I told the haters I was over this and didn’t want to be a part of their game and I defended Clay by saying he looked good and happy on Kimmel they attacked me and said I was a traitor. I can not go on lying for them and destroying a good person.”

Among those who Paulus alleged were involved was an accused blog owner who goes by the name “Percocet” and owns the “Clay Aiken Fraud Squad” blog, formerly named “Rabid Claymates Exposed.” Percocet denied that she had any involvement in or knowledge of the “scheme” that Paulus spoke of. “I am not, and to the best of my knowledge, no one on my blog is in any kind of cooperation with JP. It is becoming clear how insane he is. You can read his e-mails that he sent to me earlier tonight in my blog comments at 411. JP is just concocting a big story.”

Paulus went on to say, “I’d be willing to have a press conference admitting that this was all a lie and that Clay and I never met nor did he ever solicit me for sex and that as far as I know he is straight.”